AnimalXHouse, the hip-hop concert/party hybrid that returns to Skully’s this Friday, was designed to be a trusted brand name, an event people would associate with cutting-edge quality. Organizers Jordian Ross and Chris Mars B, mainstays of the boutique-driven Short North hip-hop scene, were looking to stoke that scene to national recognition, to provide a launch pad for talented friends like P. Blackk, Fabrashay A, Fly Union and King Vada.
“We always wanted to help them out, put them on a bigger stage,” Ross said.
So in spring 2011, when Mars returned from a trip to Austin’s music industry mecca SXSW feeling energized and ambitious, he and Ross got to work. They threw a concert with Blackk, Fab and Vada (then known as L.e for the Uncool) plus Kreg & Dez, the podcast hosts who’d scored a local hit with “Stupid Fruity Hookah.” The format was slightly unorthodox, vacillating between rap show and dance party throughout the night.
That show was a hit, but an all-local lineup doesn’t do much to spread the word about Columbus outside Columbus. So Ross and Mars started booking rising rap talent from across the country, from L.A.’s Dom Kennedy to Massillon-born, New York-based Maybach Music rapper Stalley. In retrospect, the biggest get of all was bringing Kendrick Lamar to Skully’s in October 2011, a year before good kid, m.A.A.d. city elevated him to instant rap royalty.
AnimalXHouse has never stuck to a regular schedule, partially to keep up a mystique — “It just pops up,” Ross explained — and partially to guarantee the quality level never dips. But it’s been on especially lengthy hiatus since July 2012 because Ross left Columbus for a year to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in arts & entertainment media management at Columbia College Chicago.
Courses in touring and sponsorship and a class project organizing a music festival ought to come in handy since Ross handles most of the functional aspects of AnimalXHouse. He learned the ropes from some of his fraternity brothers from Bowling Green, whose company, Living Legends LLC, brought Drake to the Club Ice in 2009 at the dawn of his stardom. Mars’ role is less defined, and he barely said a word during a joint interview last week, but Ross credits the aspiring DJ as an energizer and a crucial sounding board for ideas.
“It wouldn’t happen without Chris,” Ross said. “He keeps me fresh.”
They’re hoping to expand the brand into skate gear and are considering developing a festival, possibly to be hosted at the skate park Skate Naked. Ross isn’t sure where he’ll land after he finishes his program, but he expects AnimalXHouse to be a continued presence in Columbus. He still wants to help local talent hit the big time, even if it takes a while for the brand to build up enough clout to pull that off.
In the meantime, the series returns to Skully’s this Friday for an installment called “Generation X” featuring a larger-than-normal lineup. The headlining Two-9 crew (Retro Sushi, Curtis Williams, Key, FatKidsBrotha) hails from Atlanta, Tezo and Lorine Chia are from the Cleveland area, and the rest are from the Windy City: Chance the Rapper, Caleb James, Alex Wiley and Kembe X. Ross likes what he’s been seeing during his year in Chi-town: “The whole scene we’re trying to start here is thriving there.”